January is a time when we often focus on self-improvement. Let beef be a part of your healthy 2024.

When my father-in-law was recovering from heart surgery years ago, we received information and a heart-healthy cookbook that included beef. Beef is packed with 10 essential nutrients, making it one of the best items on your grocery list for healthy eating. You may have heard the acronym ZIP, which stands for zinc, iron, and protein, which are abundant in every serving of lean beef. If it’s been a while since you had a nutrition course, let me remind you that zinc helps promote a healthy immune system. Iron promotes good use of oxygen. Protein helps to preserve and build muscles. Compared to other proteins, beef is exceptionally nutrient-dense. For example, three ounces of cooked beef is compared to eight ounces of cooked chicken breast to get the same amount of iron. That same three-ounce serving of cooked beef compared to 20 ounces of chicken has the same amount of zinc.

Let’s take a closer look at protein, the main component of beef. Protein is 26-27% of lean cooked beef. In a three-ounce serving, you get close to half of your recommended daily value for protein. A three-ounce serving is normally the size of the palm of your hand, a deck of cards or today, compared to the length of a cell phone. If you stick with lean, unprocessed beef, it is part of a heart-healthy diet. Consuming beef supports the maintenance of healthy blood cholesterol levels, aids in reducing both cholesterol and blood pressure and contributes to weight loss. Consuming 25-30 grams of protein per meal is ideal for optimal body benefits.

The protein found in beef contributes to strength by safeguarding lean body mass and preventing the decline of muscle and strength typically linked to aging. Your doctor may even recommend the amino acids in beef to help accelerate recovery after surgery or for athletes after a hard workout. Beef is a comprehensive protein source, supplying all nine essential amino acids necessary for muscle growth and maintenance, complementing and improving your exercise regimen. Remember that from high school chemistry? Or was it biology? Yes, they’re called building blocks for a reason. That same three-ounce serving of cooked lean beef with approximately 150 calories is an excellent source of seven more essential nutrients. These may not be as common as zinc, iron and protein. Choline is for nervous system development. Vitamin B6 and B12 aid with brain function and energy. Phosphorous builds strong bones and teeth. Niacin assists in energy production and metabolism. Riboflavin converts food to fuel. Selenium protects cells from damage. Wow! That’s a pretty packed hamburger!

We’ve been using the term “lean beef.” What cuts fall into that heading? One easy-to-remember clue is to look for the terms “round” or “loin” in the cut’s title. Lean beef has less than 10 grams of total fat and 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat. Did you know that 60% of whole-muscle beef cuts are considered lean thanks to improved cattle breeding, feeding and trimming practices? 

Surprisingly, beef is recommended for individuals of all ages, promoting mental and physical strength. Did you know that children as young as 24 months of age can consume beef? 

The nutrients discussed above are critical for healthy growth and development, especially brain development. Tweens and teens need the nutrient density found in beef to prepare them for optimal health and reduced chronic disease in adulthood.

There’s sound research related to beef in a healthy diet. For further information, look up

beefitswhatsfordinner.com, beefresearch.org or nebeef.org. It’s comforting to know that not only is beef a flavorful, satisfying and enjoyable addition to your diet, but it really is a nutritious choice.